Carbondales lodging loss is Skicos gain
The Aspen Skiing Co. sealed a deal earlier this month to purchase the Thunder River Lodge, a 21-room motel located on the west side of Highway 133 near the entrance to Carbondale.With the sale, Carbondale loses one of its few lodges – and the most affordable one at that. But the Skico gains much needed employee housing.”We’re trying to do a rebuild in [Aspen] and we’re running into problems. We needed more beds and more options,” said Jim Laing, vice president of human resources for the Skico. “Housing has gotten more and more scarce upvalley and midvalley, so we’re exploring all the options.”Laing said the Skico is always looking to create more affordable housing for employees, especially for the positions that are harder to fill. He called the Thunder River Lodge a turnkey opportunity with employees moving in this week.”It’s the right thing to do and we’re very fortunate that our ownership feels the same way, because it’s a very expensive proposition,” Laing said. “It usually falls on the government to do it, but we’re not waiting, were charging ahead.”Laing said one of the first questions prospective employees ask is about housing.He said the rooms will be rented to employees at well-below market rates in attempt to make it affordable and attractive; employees living at Thunder River Lodge will face bus rides of more than an hour each between home and work.The lodge will house about 40 seasonal employees this winter, but Laing said it may turn into longer-term housing depending on the need. The Skico currently has about 300 subsidized “beds” to offer employees. Laing said the company hopes to double that in the next few years.The Thunder River Lodge is located in unincorporated Garfield County and is zoned commercial/general, which is relatively wide open for multifamily housing opportunities, said county planner Fred Jarman. He said the location is ideal for employee housing from a planning perspective because it is across from a bus stop, has bike path access and is near a grocery store and other amenities. Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randi Lowenthal isn’t against employee housing, but said Carbondale needs more lodging opportunities for visitors.”I’m not happy. I would love to see us add some hotel rooms. I think Carbondale could handle another medium-level hotel and a boutique hotel,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of choices right now.”The Skico purchased the property from longtime valley residents Artie and Maureen Rothman, who bought the operation in 1994. The lodge was built in 1967.He said a local ranching family told him a few years ago it just wasn’t viable to raise cows on land worth so much more for homes. Similarly, he said hotel operators can’t ignore obvious financial opportunities. “It’s difficult anywhere to run a lodge,” said Artie Rothman, who was looking to convert the property into small apartments to sell off at somewhat affordable rates before making the deal with the Skico.”It’s rather crazy to stay in this seven-day-a-week, high-energy job when your property is worth so much more as something else,” he added. “You can only ignore that stuff for so long – whether it’s cows or hotels. I hate to see that with the ranches, but you can’t fault that rancher.”The Thunder River Lodge served budget-minded travelers, and more recently, construction crews working on projects from Carbondale to Aspen, said Rothman, who considered his operation a success. Still, if something needs to be preserved, the community needs to help figure out a way for it to survive in the current market, he said.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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